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Harold Pinter and the American Menace
Last uploaded : Sunday 27th Oct 2002 at 00:21
Contributed by : Carol Gould



‘Israel has these weapons and has used them.’

‘The USA is intent on controlling the world and the world’s resources.’

‘Bush is on a par with Saddam.’

‘Israel’s injustice to the Palestinians is an outrage.’

Oh, here we go again. Is this a string of quotes from an Arab newspaper? No, you guessed: it is the litany of an otherwise rational and brilliant man, but of course he is British and Left wing. Readers of this site may think we spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about the British -- that they (Left or Right-wing) hate Israel and that they (Left) hate the USA. However, when one watches prominent Americans -- be they in the arts or politics -- for the most part, even if they are critical of their own country and of Israel, they do not lash out against their European allies, whose collective, blood-curdling history far outstrips that of the USA.

In July 2001 in New York a large number of people turned out for a Harold Pinter Festival. He was feted and wined and dined, and enormous amounts of money were raised to pay for a vast re-staging of his plays. The generosity of the Americans who spent years planning this event were rewarded by Harold Pinter in his rhetoric upon returning to Britain. His criticism of the United States has been a long-term affair; in 1999 at an anti-war rally in London he read a poem he had written suggesting that ‘we blew the f**^&% sh*&^^ out of them’ depicts America and Americans. He likes to suggest that it is Americans who are intent on reducing children to shreds with cluster bombs.

Lastnight on BBC Television’s ‘Newsnight,’ Pinter was charm itself until the interviewer, Jeremy Paxman, brought the conversation around to politics. The playwright said that he was ashamed to be British because the present Labour government seemed to be a kind of clone of the Conservatives -- something with which many of us would not disagree -- but then he added that his real shame and disgust came from the subservience of Britain to the United States.

Because I reject the concept of ‘subservience’ as it relates to the US-British alliance, I will not ask ‘Would Mr Pinter like Britain to be subservient to Rwanda or to Libya instead?’ However, I will ask Mr Pinter if he would like the British government to form an alliance with, say, Burundi or Columbia?

Pinter took off like a 747 as he described President George W Bush as the world’s worst leader with weapons of mass destruction (well, some might agree) but he then said that Bush is an a par with Saddam Hussein. Jeremy Paxman, who is not known for defending the honour of George W Bush, was nonetheless incredulous. His face contorted, Paxman retorted, ‘George Bush doesn’t torture people and kill his own family!’ to which Pinter responded, ‘Look, there is a vast Gulag going on in America.’ (If Mr Pinter is so concerned about human rights in the United States, why did he accept the hospitality of scores of Americans who spent a fortune on feting him in 2001? )

Pinter elaborated: he claimed that there are two million people in jails across America, being kept in this giant Gulag characterised by brutal, ruthless and horrific imprisonments for what in many cases are minor offences. Paxman, again not known to be a defender of the American prison system, countered that at least the prisoners of whom Pinter spoke had received due process of law.

Pinter went on to assert that the one situation that outraged him above all else was the Israeli ‘injustice to the Palestinians,’ which is an issue that exercises many, but he then went on to say, in the context of George Bush’s pursuit of Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction, that Israel possesses these weapons ‘and has used them.’

If anyone reading this can provide JewishComment with proof that Israel has used chemical, biological or nuclear weapons against anyone we would be interested to know about it.

Harold Pinter, who at this stage in the Paxman interview had gone into orbit, literally shook with rage as he thundered that ‘the United States of America is intent on controlling the world and the world’s resources.’ This is another mantra I, as an American, find mystifying, even after twenty-seven years of living in Europe.

The Pinter interview ended with his telling Paxman that we ‘must understand’ terrorism. He regards the present American Administration as ‘hysterical’ and arrogant and that this is a great danger to the rest of us. (I would be hysterical too, if nineteen Arab guests in my country took hundreds of innocent air passengers hostage and then flew them to their deaths into more innocent people at their places of work.)

Frankly, I am sick to death of hearing Europeans berating my country (the USA) as if it were a rogue state intent on annihilating the rest of humanity. This viewpoint is a sick one, and represents a paucity of spirit as we try to form an alliance amongst enlightened western cultures to combat the repressive, sexist regimes of so many Third World countries.

On only one point did I agree with Harold Pinter: he complained that the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, never discusses anything with Parliament or with the people. In these columns in recent weeks we have praised the excellent press conferences from the Pentagon that are held weekly. Some of us are old enough to remember the superb press conferences held by President John Kennedy and more recently by President Clinton. It is lamentable that our present leaders do not conduct these enlightening briefings and on this point Pinter is correct.

It is of note that BBC’s ‘Arena’ programme broadcast a three-hour special tonight on the life and work of Harold Pinter. We are prepared to register here that it is of great pride to the Jewish people that such a remarkable, indeed legendary playwright has made so profound an impact on several generations of theatregoers and students of drama.

What we find depressing is Pinter’s loathing of a country that has provided him with millions of dollars in theatre takings and that has honoured him with recognition, indeed adoration that ties in with the traditional Anglophilia of America. His suggestion that the United States wishes to dominate the world is absurd. (Only more absurd and obscene was the accusation hurled at me by various British associates the day after the Bali bombing that the CIA had masterminded the atrocity to draw the world into the war on terror.) Pinter’s assertion that Americans wish to control the world’s resources is also absurd: had they wished to do so they could have ‘got there’ a long time ago.

On the same day that the Pinter interview was aired on BBC, CNN International/Europe aired a major special about the American Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. He was challenged with the same accusation by an interviewer -- isn’t America trying to rule the world? To which he replied:

‘I am an American; I live here and I know the American people….The United States isn’t interested in the rest of the world in terms of taking anyone’s real estate or changing anyone’s views on their religion. That is utter nonsense. The United States was not a colonial power-- WE didn’t go in and occupy Africa and other parts of the globe. We are a nation that recognises how closely linked we are with the rest of the world from an economic standpoint. We recognise that in Western Europe in particular our views and our values and our political values are very similar.’

How refreshing it would have been to have heard Harold Pinter, whose plays are a breathtaking revelation, show a degree of ‘seychel’ about America and Israel, two nations that adore his work and who are havens for free expression and vigorous cultural activity.

How far would Harold Pinter have got had he been a Jew born in Syria or Libya?

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